Dispatches from Dawn in the USA

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   Ben Franklin was a Twitter master a quarter-millennium before the medium, as I wrote in the Foreword to Mark Major’s excellent new book Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners, but Franklin was also more skilled at describing true Original Green sustainability than anyone alive today. What follows are some of my favorite nuggets of Poor Richard wisdom. Read them, then ask yourself “does this help keep things going in a healthy way, long into an uncertain future?” More often than not, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

   Here’s another question to ask yourself as you read these: “is this bit of Franklin wisdom more about consuming things or sustaining things?” Or, “is this more about using stuff up or handing stuff down?” And one more: “how many of these have been sticky enough to come down in some form to our day? Here’s Ben, in chronological order:


Hunger never saw bad bread.

The poor have little, beggars none, the rich too much, enough not one.

He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas.

Without justice, courage is weak.

All things are easy to Industry; all things difficult to Sloth.

Fools multiply folly.

Hope of gain, lessens pain.

Necessity never made a good bargain.

Humility makes great men twice honorable.

Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead.

What's given shines, what's received is rusty.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

To be humble to Superiors is Duty, to Equals Courtesy, to Inferiors Nobleness.

God helps them that help themselves.

Don't throw stones at your neighbors, if your own windows are glass.

Creditors have better memories than debtors.

I saw few die of Hunger, of Eating 100,000.

He that would live in peace & at ease, must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.

He that can compose himself, is wiser than he that composes books.

Well done is better than well said.

The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.

The noblest question in the world is: What Good may I do in it?

Write with the learned, pronounce with the vulgar.

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.

The ancients tell us what is best, but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest.

As we must account for every idle word, so we must for every idle silence.


Time is an herb that cures all Diseases.

Wish a miser long life, and you wish him no good.

Drive thy business; let not that drive thee.

Search others for their virtues, thy self for thy vices.

He that falls in love with himself, will have no Rivals.

Let thy Discontents be Secrets.

Promises may get thee friends, but Nonperformance will turn them into enemies.

When befriended, remember it: when you befriend, forget it.

Be always ashamed to catch yourself idle.

If you would keep your Secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend.

There are no fools so troublesome as those that have wit.

He that sows thorns, should not go barefoot.

Death takes no bribes.

If you'd lose a troublesome Visitor, lend him Money.

A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a Gallon of Vinegar.

Give me yesterday's Bread, this Day's Flesh, and last Year's Cider.

God heals, and the Doctor takes the Fees.

Keep thou from the Opportunity, and God will keep thee from the Sin.

He who multiplies Riches multiplies Cares.

A true Friend is the best Possession.

Beware of little Expenses; a small Leak will sink a great Ship.

He's a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom.

No gains without pains.

'Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.

An ounce of wit that is bought, is worth a pound that is taught.

A quarrelsome Man has no good Neighbors.

It's the easiest Thing in the World for a Man to deceive himself.

Virtue and Happiness are Mother and Daughter.

Dost thou love Life? then do not squander Time; for that's the Stuff Life is made of.


A good Example is the best sermon.

He that won't be counseled, can't be helped.

Write Injuries in Dust, Benefits in Marble.

A slip of the foot you may soon recover; but a slip of the Tongue you may never get over.

Lost Time is never found again.

Liberality is not giving much but giving wisely.

He is not well-bred, that cannot bear Ill-Breeding in others.

Wise Men learn by other's harms; Fools by their own.

Content makes poor men rich; Discontent makes rich men poor.

Drink does not drown Care, but waters it, and makes it grow faster.

The wise Man draws more Advantage from his Enemies, than the Fool from his Friends.

All would live long, but none would be old.

He is Governor that governs his Passions, and he a Servant that serves them.

Genius without education is like silver in the mine.

Little Strokes, Fell great Oaks.

What signifies knowing the Names, if you know not the Natures of Things.

'Tis easier to suppress the first Desire, than to satisfy all that follow it.

Not to oversee Workmen, is to leave them your Purse open.

Cunning proceeds from Want of Capacity.

The Proud hate Pride – in others.

For want of a Nail the Shoe is lost; for want of a Shoe, the Horse is lost; for want of a Horse the Rider is lost.


Hold your Council before Dinner; the full Belly hates Thinking as well as Acting.

Ceremony is not Civility; nor Civility Ceremony.

If Man could have Half his Wishes, he would double his Troubles.

Success has ruined many a Man.

Many have quarreled about Religion, that never practiced it.

Haste makes Waste.

Anger is never without a Reason, but seldom with a good One.

When out of Favor, none know thee; when in, thou dost not know thyself.

You may give a Man an Office, but you cannot give him Discretion.

Speak little, do much.

Think of three Things: whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account.

There was never a good Knife made of bad Steel.

Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.

Love, and be loved.

One To-day is worth two To-morrows.

Work as if you were to live 100 years, Pray as if you were to die To-morrow.

Plough deep while sluggards sleep.

Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day.


It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.

There will be sleeping enough in the Grave.

Silence is not always a Sign of Wisdom, but Babbling is ever a Mark of Folly.

Contentment is the Philosopher's Stone, that turns all it touches into Gold.

He that's content, hath enough; He that complains, has too much.

Hope you enjoyed these!

   ~Steve Mouzon


Greenwash… err… Greenbuild 2014

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IMG 5315

   I’m at Greenbuild in New Orleans. A walk through the exhibits reveals a lot of manufacturers trying to prove that what they’ve always sold is green. That’s the definition of greenwashing. On the other hand, there is some really clever stuff here as well. I’ll be blogging about both on my Useful Stuff blog today and tomorrow because it’s better suited to quick, short posts with images than this blog. Check it out!

   ~Steve Mouzon


Can Minimalism be Lovable?

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clean white bathroom is doubled in size by a wall of mirror perched on a white subway tile wainscot capped with a thin black belt of soapstone

   There’s a strongly-held view in some architectural camps that minimalist design is unlovable, but I believe that’s a misconception based on the famously-sterile architecture of the 1970s. I even railed in last week’s post against the dangers of pursuing minimalist design so hard that we get rid of essential things. So let’s take a look at ways clean design can achieve lovability.

General Principles

Love and Respect

palm leaves in corrugated steel vase set against shower glowing softly through its minimal glass wall
Tweet: It’s hard for design to be lovable and therefore sustainable if it’s not respectful of its setting. http://ctt.ec/a2se5+

It’s hard for design to be lovable and therefore sustainable if it’s not respectful of its setting.

   Wanda and I moved to Miami eleven years ago, buying a unit at The Dixon, a noted Art Deco landmark in the heart of South Beach. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a long-time advocate of lovability as the first foundation of sustainable buildings because if a building can’t be loved, it won’t last, because we'll find some excuse to rid ourselves of the unlovable. But I’m also a huge advocate for contextual design that respects its surroundings, so it was a foregone conclusion that our renovated condo would not look like something we might have done in another setting. Instead, it became an intriguing exploration of a new part of the character of lovability.

Essential Things

white curtains flow across a wall stirred by faint breezes of enormous ceiling fan constructed of fishing poles and sail cloth
Tweet: The high standard of great minimalism is losing no essential thing while keeping no unnecessary thing. http://ctt.ec/Zane7+

The high standard of great minimalism is losing no essential thing while keeping no unnecessary thing.

   Our bedroom is the simplest room I have ever designed, and I thought for a long time about what was really needed. A tent is exotic yet peaceful to me. The bedroom was almost perfectly square to begin with, so I began by encircling the room with a curtain that is precisely an eleven foot square.

white ceiling with white fan overlook white curtained walls and white limestone floor, on which is perched white leather platform bed surmounted by white down comforter

   The curtain runs across everything… windows, closets, yes, even the door. Come into the room and close the curtain and it’s very much like being in a tent. It’s also very quiet because the fabric absorbs so much sound. Andrés Duany said “this room feels better than any room I’ve been in for a long time for reasons I can’t quite describe.

   The huge white ceiling fan indulges a bit of fancy with a nod to our island home: each blade’s spine is a fishing rod stretching sail cloth into a blade. The bed is a white leather platform bed with a white down comforter. There are only two other things in the room (other than us): two little floor lamps of a perfect height for reading in bed.

   Other than that, what is really necessary? And editing all those other normal bedroom artifacts out creates a couple’s retreat so immersed with and peace and calm that it borders on the sublime.

A Chef's Kitchen

stainless steel kitchen tools and baker's rack sit against wall of pleated stainless steel panels like the ones found in classic deco diners
Tweet: Visual simplicity in a kitchen hides all the tools from view. Far better to see everything, so cooking is simple. http://ctt.ec/QEgYy+

Visual simplicity in a kitchen hides all the tools from view. Far better to see everything, so cooking is simple.

   Our kitchen is a very different room from our bedroom. It abandons the visual simplicity of the bedroom so that it can achieve simplicity of use. Our son Sam, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, calls this a “chef’s kitchen,” the opposite of which is a “show kitchen.”

two sisters prepare dinner in kitchen glowing with warm light sparkling off stainless steel everywhere

   A chef’s kitchen creates a different sort of lovability. By being quirky, engaging and warm, it invites others to join in and cook together, like Wanda is doing with her sister Janna here. Several types of lovability are delivered by the design itself, but in this case, the design merely sets the stage for people to have experiences they will recall in pleasant memories.

Detailed Principles

Things that Curve

four black soapstone shelves curve along a bathroom wall, supported at their greatest extension by thick copper pipes
Tweet: No part of the body is without curve. We resonate with design that reflects curving human form in some way. http://ctt.ec/O0HQf+

No part of the body is without curve. We resonate with design that reflects curving human form in some way.

   These shelves are soapstone slabs, cut in a gentle mirrored S-curve (or reflected cyma, if you prefer) to honor the Art Deco heritage of the building, as that language of architecture was well-stocked with repeated ribs of various shapes used for many purposes.

   Most consruction materials and components are straight, from wood studs to concrete block to sheets of metal roofing. Curves, therefore, are usually quite expensive to achieve. A space composed only of curves would be so exotic that it might even seem psychedelic, as you might recall if you’ve ever seen any of the 1960s architecture that tried to do precisely that. So use curves sparingly, but don’t forget about them because well-designed things that remind us of our own form usually get points for lovability.

Things that Grow

palm leaves flow between light fixture and oval mirror on bathroom wall, with shower glowing softly to the left
Tweet: Places that welcome living things, plant or animal, tend to be more lovable than those too polished to be bothered. http://ctt.ec/d1Nq6+

Places that welcome living things, plant or animal, tend to be more lovable than those too polished to be bothered.

   We’ve all seen rooms so visually sophisticated, whether classical or modern, that it seems as if any intrusion might degrade them. “Too perfect to live in” is a description I’ve heard countless times for places like this.

   Because minimalism falls off this cliff faster than classicism, it’s really important for a minimalist space to be imperfect enough to accept various life forms. And a minimalist room arguably benefits most, because these two palm fronds arguably make a bigger impact in a room like this than they would in one already chock-full of decorative embellishments. Bringing the outdoors in can be a responsible thing as well… Wanda almost always salvages greenery that was trimmed or pruned away, giving it a few more days of life indoors as it delights us in exchange.

Quirky Things

white wood door with three windows is cased with galvanized steel roof flashing instead of the customary wood casing
Tweet: Lovable places frequently are built with at least one thing that brings you up short and makes you chuckle. http://ctt.ec/ia073+

Lovable places frequently are built with at least one thing that brings you up short and makes you chuckle.

   The most chuckle-worthy thing in our condo is probably the door casing. For reasons that are a story for another day, I needed the casing to sit very flat against the wall. And I wanted to honor the metal detailing found throughout our Art Deco building in some way. I was walking through one of those great old lumberyards in Miami one day… Shell Lumber, if you know the area. I was looking for something else, but then a piece of flashing caught my eye. It was precisely the right width, and quarter-inch drip crimp not only would hold the free-floating edge straight along its length, but it was a near-perfect metaphor for the edge band often found on classical wood casing. Delighted, I purchased my galvanized-roof-flashing-turned-door-casing and headed back to the condo, where my trim carpenter thought for a moment that I had completely lost my mind… but who still to this day occasionally brings people here to show them his most unusual casing job ever!

Head to Foot

circular telescoping mirror catches the photographer's reflection off a larger wall of mirror that doubles the size of the bathroom
Tweet: Lovable design reflects the vertical arrangement of the human body, which has a top, a middle, and a bottom. http://ctt.ec/fqN4L+

Lovable design reflects the vertical arrangement of the human body, which has a top, a middle, and a bottom.

   Most often, reflection of the body from head to foot is thought of as a head, body, and foot, like the capital, shaft, and base of a classical column. But there are other ways of reflecting us as well.

   This room, for example, divides between middle and bottom at the waist, marked by a black soapstone belt. The tile wainscot reflects the legs and the black soapstone base (not visible here) reflects the feet, while the mirror and painted wall above the belt reflect the body and the painted coffer reflects the head. It’s a bit of a high waist, but that’s because I needed to align the band with the window sills beyond, as you can see from their reflection in the mirror.

Reflecting Our Faces

bathroom wall reflects the form of the face, with two narrow windows for eyes (lit by two pendant lights in the evening), an oval mirror for a nose, and white porcelain sink with chrome fittings for a mouth
Tweet: We resonate with things that reflect us, including the form of the human face. http://ctt.ec/W1YB0+

We resonate with things that reflect us, including the form of the human face.

   It’s not essential for a design to have an abstracted face in order for the design to be lovable, but when you can make that happen, people almost invariably smile. Of all the ways of reflecting the human body, the reflection of our faces reaches us most deeply.

   If you’re interested, I’ve posted a portfolio of images of our condo, including these and some other images, on the Studio Sky site. Studio Sky, in case you don’t know, is a design firm I run with two great friends, Eric Moser and Julia Sanford. Our goal is to build places and buildings that are highly sustainable according to Original Green and related ideals. I’m building a really interesting Original Green section on Studio Sky, where I step through each of the foundations of the Original Green, all the way to frugal buildings, illustrating each principle with a collection of patterns, some of which might not have occurred to you yet. You’ll find some of the examples from this post on the lovable buildings page, along with several others. I hope you find these Studio Sky pages useful… please keep coming back, as I’m adding stuff all the time.

If you’re interested, I’m doing a New Media workshop in Celebration, Florida November 8.

   Leading with principles that anyone can use for free instead of the normal sales pitch makes Studio Sky’s site a bit unique among designers and builders, but I believe this will be the future of designers’ and builders’ websites. If you’re interested in what the future may hold for us, I’m doing a New Media workshop for designers and builders November 8 in Celebration, Florida. Hope to see you there!

   As for this post, it has just touched the tip of the lovability iceberg. Have you had enough, or would you come back for more? I’d be happy to do a series of posts on lovability if anyone’s interested… just leave a note below… thanks!

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Wanda Whitley Mouzon · University of Miami

Very clear and well put! Cold sterile interiors cannot achieve the pure delight of a space that is simple but organic!

Oct 20, 2014 5:51pm

Terry E. Kearns · Georgia Tech

Bravo. That was a lovable post and a first class selfie.

Oct 20, 2014 5:57pm

Sandy Sorlien · Works at Fairmount Water Works

You have proven that minimalism can be lovable! By the way, did you know there's a study showing that kids learn better in uncluttered classrooms.

Oct 21, 2014 7:02am

Bronwyn Boltwood · Ottawa, Ontario

This is something that Ikea is very good at in their marketing material -- making a space look attractive yet lived-in. They look like they contain actual possessions, not just staging accessories or clutter.

Too many spaces are still very sterile -- there was even an article comparing modern office interiors to natural environments, which concluded that messy offices were better because at least there was more stimulation than the sensory deprivation chamber that is a minimalist office. Don't ask me why, but they didn't even ask the question of "how else can we improve office interiors?"

Oct 21, 2014 7:18am


Simplicity, Minimalism, and Bandwidth

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a simple terra cotta bowl of Tuscan bean soup rests on a white napkin and disk set on a red-and-white linen checked tablecloth at an al fresco restaurant in the Tuscan town of Pienza, Italy

a simple pleasure or visually fussy?

   Simplicity isn't so simple, but simplicity done right can create some of the most lovable experiences and things… and the things we love the most are usually the things we sustain the longest. The problem is that there are several types of simplicity, including at least one charlatan close to the end that's not nearly so simple as it appears.

The Bandwidth Pendulum and the Victorian Revival

garden shed at Carlton Landing on Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma has a simple take on its Victorian heritage
Tweet: Conjuring simplicity with images of a simpler time works for a while, but doesn’t ease our bandwidth demands. http://ctt.ec/je5ap+

Conjuring simplicity with images of a simpler time works for a while, but doesn’t ease our bandwidth demands.

   The architectural establishment won't acknowledge it, but a Victorian Revival has fluorished for the past three decades in the US, arguably getting into full swing at Seaside. How is it possible that people have embraced things that high-style designers might tag as "fussy" or "frilly" during precisely those decades when our bandwidth has been increasingly sapped away by the 24/7 connectivity of the digital era? I believe the Victorian Revival sprang from a desire to strip away our modern burdens of time demands and complexities and invoke the perceived simplicity of an earlier time. But pendulums always swing back, and while things that recall images of a simpler time can transport us out of the digital torrent for a while, we need a deeper simplicity now, as time demands wash ever deeper over us. Let’s consider several ways of achieving more deeply-rooted simplicity.

Simple to Use

three well-worn hand tools lay atop a scuffed stainless steel table in the evening light
Tweet: The life expectancy of a tool is inversely proportional to the thickness of its manual. http://ctt.ec/fMwGe+

The life expectancy of a tool is inversely proportional to the thickness of its manual.

   The best tools need no manuals at all, because their uses are self-evident. And the things that are simplest to use actually lend themselves to much inventiveness of purpose because it’s easy to imagine other things they could be used for that their original designer may never have envisioned.

Simple Pleasures

bright yellow hand truck sits outside a tiny Tuscan neighborhood market in Pienza, Italy as the vegetable deliveryman finalizes the transaction inside

a Tuscan market, just around the corner

from where the bean soup was served

Tweet: A simple pleasure is more easily repeated than one that depends on a complex set of conditions. http://ctt.ec/rv57f+

A simple pleasure is more easily repeated than one that depends on a complex set of conditions.

   The caption of this post’s title image asks an important question: Is that bowl of Tuscan bean soup sitting on a checkered tablecloth somewhere in Tuscany simple or not? Visually, there are a lot of things going on, from the texture of the soup itself to the knotty fabric of the tablecloth. So designers might consider the image to be visually complex, but almost everyone else would consider the experience of eating a bowl of Tuscan bean soup in Tuscany to be one of life’s simple pleasures.

And as such, it’s something you can have any time you’re in Tuscany… or any time at all, if you know how to cook. And that’s the great pleasure of simple pleasures: they’re so accessible to us because they come so easily, and many of them can be repeated for a lifetime.

Working Simply

drawing table is illuminated with the warm glow of a task lamp snaking from its clamped perch on an adjacent drawing file

Wanda and I have taken “in-house work” to its logical

extreme, working from home (and learning live/work lessons)

Tweet: Outsourcing work might be more efficient, but things done in-house are less susceptible to disruption. http://ctt.ec/8ShwD+

Outsourcing work might be more efficient, but things done in-house are less susceptible to disruption.

   Take the IT department, for example. It’s good to have a good IT department. But it’s better to work with systems that are simple enough that you don’t need an IT department. That’s why Apple has fans, while all the other computer companies merely have customers. Those other companies make consultants more powerful; Apple makes me more powerful by making power simpler.

Simply Authentic

simple timber column shows it is solid with the cracks along its side

cracks are a sure sign that this is a

solid timber column

Tweet: Imperfections are signs of depth - only thin veneers can be perfect, and that perfection doesn’t last. http://ctt.ec/NX97l+

Imperfections are signs of depth - only thin veneers can be perfect, and that perfection doesn’t last.

   Veneers had a long and illustrious history… until recently. For centuries, people overlaid structures built of strong but crude materials with thin layers of costly materials with the intent of making buildings more noble. Today, our motive has changed: we're no longer seeking to make buildings more noble, but to make them maintenance-free. So now we coat building elements with thin layers of cheap materials like vinyl or aluminum in hopes that we will no longer have to care for the building. But because they're cheap and thin, today's veneers can only hide the imperfections of the base material for so long. And when they fail, they do so hideously. Because we've seen far too many cheap veneers come apart at the seams, there is now a budding desire for building with real materials. A timber column, even with its cracks, is better than a structural column encased with a flimsy wrap of other materials. Those cracks in the timber column show that this is the real thing: a building element with depth, and that won't suddenly come apart one day.

Natural Economy

vines reclaiming an ancient brick wall along a street in Antigua Guatemala

nature reclaiming a place

Tweet: Nature’s accountant balances all of the books. http://ctt.ec/ynjlN+

Nature’s accountant balances all of the books.

   Nature is incredibly complex at the microscopic level, but everything balances out. One creature’s waste is another one’s food, as we’ve known for a long time. And even when humans put things far out of balance at one moment in time, nature finds ways of achieving a new balance. Consider how quickly an abandoned place is reclaimed once the people leave. This simplicity of everything balancing out even though the individual workings of nature might involve very complex chemistry or physics is a high standard we cannot really even aspire to yet. The best way to invoke the simplicity of natural economy is simply to plant stuff and feed things, and let nature do its work. We can’t yet manufacture tomatoes, but we can grow them.

Elemental Things

garden pond sits on Isola Bella, Italy against a background of clipped shrubs, potted trees, stone gates, with Lago Maggiore dividing the scene from mountains beyond

a pool as a simple circle

Tweet: Elemental forms can be very efficient carriers of information when they ask less of us to unlock their story. http://ctt.ec/52iCt+

Elemental forms can be very efficient carriers of information when they ask less of us to unlock their story.

This round pool, for example, is recognizable as such in fractions of a second whereas a more complex water body might require some investigation to see if it’s a stream or a pond. Even if we don’t consciously ask ourself that question, our mind is still burdened with having to recognize the complex shape. The whole world cannot be composed of elemental shapes, of course. But things that can be simply shaped while at the same time being understandable are a welcome relief in our increasingly complex world. In the end, the goal should be to achieve a healthy balance between simplicity and complexity, so the more we’re bombarded with more and more information, the more we appreciate elemental but understandable things.

The Minimalism Hazard

minimalist orange garden pavilion sits in the afternoon Tuscan light of La Bandita in Italy

this pavilion is quite beautiful to the trained eye, but

accomplishes little more than a couple umbrellas would do


"Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” ~Einstein

   Minimalism seems at first like the ultimate simplicity, removing every non-essential thing until we're left with the real essence of whatever we're designing. Unfortunately, many architects ignore Einstein's dictum and begin removing essentials. They eliminate the visible roof entirely, for example, leaving the owner with leaky flat roofs in wet climates. They try to reduce the top of the wall to a single line, but then can't properly flash the parapet. Unlike the iPod, which kept all the essentials but got rid of everything else, much architecture today gets rid of essentials as well in the name of style, and then suffers for it.

Choosing Simplicity

Tweet: Don’t confuse the path to simplicity with a simple or easy path, as it requires many choices, and editing things out. http://ctt.ec/c_U19+

Don’t confuse the path to simplicity with a simple or easy path, as it requires many choices, and editing things out.

   Which sorts of simplicity should we choose? Everyone will likely have their own mix, but I’d suggest that any choice that removes clutter and allows us to focus on the most important things is probably a good choice. What do you think?

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

DelMario Liddell · Wiesbaden, Germany

Great insightful read. It's a challenge to be efficient

Oct 14, 2014 1:48pm

Perry Sponseller · Memphis, Tennessee

Spot on with the Minimalism Hazard. Quite to the point.

 Oct 27, 2014 5:26am

Perry Sponseller · Memphis, Tennessee

Was hopping to find a recipe for that wonderful bowl of beans.

Oct 27, 2014 5:27am


Steve Jobs and the Living Tradition Conundrum

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Steve Jobs death notice posted on apple.com the day he died

   Yesterday was the third anniversary of the loss of Steve Jobs, and to this day, most people completely miss his biggest contribution: the enabling of new living traditions where there had been none before. Much like the way Gizmo Green dominates green building conversations, almost all stories about Steve focus on the technical side of his brilliance. But if you go back and read what he actually said, it’s clear that one of his core motivations was to allow ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

blue bicycle resting against stone wall in the soft Tuscan afternoon light of Pienza, Italy

   There’s an apparent disconnect between what Steve did and what a few of us are trying to do for sustainability that actually isn’t a disconnect at all. Steve built powerful tools without knowing everything that people would do with them. He had some ideas, to be sure, but there’s no doubt that he took delight in people coming up with uses he never considered. He famously said that a Mac is a “bicycle for your brain,” because bicycles transform humans from one of the most inefficient species at travel to one more efficient than all but a few species such as condors. Steve didn’t need to know where you would go with your bike in order to design the bicycle/Mac… he just needed to design it to make you more effective.

   The Original Green is sustainability built upon an operating system of living traditions, and it’s what kept humanity alive for almost all of human history. We’re at a strange and rare point in history where the living traditions for building sustainable places and buildings have died almost everywhere on earth, beginning in the early 20th Century. And so there is much confusion about the nature of living traditions, and whether they can even exist at all today.

   News flash… they can and do exist. The blogosphere is a vibrant living tradition that sprang up in just the last decade, with millions participating and hundreds of millions (or more) reading their work. So there’s no doubt they work well today, even if architecture and urbanism aren’t reaping their benefits yet.

diagram of workman - tool - product to illustrate Original Green - living traditions - built artifacts

   Part of the resistance in architecture stems from rejection of things before our time because of the need to do transgressional work. This prejudices architecture against things that have long been proven to work, which is where new living traditions probably need to begin. The other part is a misunderstanding of how the process works because most of us have never seen them work in architecture or urbanism. The illustration above shows how it works.

   The worker in the illustration is like the Original Green itself… the intelligence behind sustainable places and buildings. Living traditions are similar to the tool (or operating system) wielded by the worker. The products created are the built artifacts of places and buildings.

If you’re interested, I’m doing a New Media workshop in Celebration, Florida November 8.

   Problem is, architects tend to confuse the artifacts with the worker. An intelligent worker can build different things tomorrow from what is built today. Just because we begin with artifacts long proven to work doesn’t mean we won’t be producing better artifacts tomorrow. As a matter of fact, a living tradition is always learning because the heartbeat of a living tradition is four simple words: “we do this because…” Basing design on principles in this way, rather than style, means that everyone is allowed to think again, and that what we build tomorrow has the hope of being better than what we build today.

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Chris Rogers · Birmingham, Alabama

The term I use to describe a building or place that is flexible enough to be used for possibilities other than those explicitly designed is "affordance". Great examples would be digital graffiti at Alys Beach, or the gravel parking lot at Seaside's Motor Court Inn hosting a wedding reception.

Oct 8, 2014 11:22am


Fitness Alfresco and the Money Problem

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Nancy Bruning demonstrating a Fitness Alfresco push-up at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach

   We’ve grown so dependent on our gizmos that we often forget about the natural ways of doing things… ways that are often just as effective and usually a lot less costly than the mechanically-driven methods. Take fitness, for example. How many Americans get in their cars and drive to the gym where they work out on the equipment, then drive back home again, spending $100 or more per month by the time you count the memberships, the gas, the wear and tear on the cars, and the value of the commuting time? And how many more people sign up for memberships but quickly quit going, while the membership fees keep draining from their checking accounts?

Nancy Bruning stretching on a park bench in South Beach's Flamingo Park

   My friend Nancy Bruning was the editor of the Original Green, and she’s also a prolific author, with one of her latest being 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench, which lays out the idea she calls Fitness Alfresco. Nancy shows you some of those moves throughout this post.

   But there’s a problem shared by both Fitness Alfresco and the Original Green: there’s not much money in it. Americans spend billions of dollars per year with the fitness industry, and that’s almost certainly dwarfed by the building equipment and control industries. Meanwhile, Fitness Alfresco costs you nothing but time and some comfortable clothing. So how can Fitness Alfresco spread beyond the circle of Nancy’s influence if there’s no big money to drive it?

   I’ve been asking myself the same thing about the Original Green. I’m unlikely to find big equipment manufacturers as sponsors or advertisers because I advocate for doing things that require less equipment. And I repeatedly make the case that the things with the greatest impacts are not the measures that make our buildings smarter, but the ones that make us smarter. So where’s the corporate sponsorship future in that? Is the Original Green just a book and a website, destined to die when I run out of passion or run out of time?

a dog walks by as Nancy Bruning stretches on a park bench in Flamingo Park on Miami Beach

   I watched a fascinating conversation with two friends on Facebook recently spurred by this story on the happiest cities in the US. One friend is strongly conservative (as is the article) and the other is reliably progressive, but they came to a surprising agreement via this train of thought:

   The happiest cities aren’t where you think they should be, and for the most part represent places considered to be “backwards.” But why is that? Places where people know how to do for themselves, raise their own food, etc., should be considered the most sustainable. And they’re demonstrably happier.

Nancy Bruning demonstrating proper dip technique on a park bench on Flamingo Park, South Beach, Miami

   Why, then, should they be cast in a negative light? Is it possible that it’s precisely because they are more sustainable? Meaning that they consume less? Specifically, they spend less on consumer goods? And so it’s therefore in the interest of the vast American Media-Advertising Complex to portray them negatively? Both my friends came to this conclusion from markedly different places on the political spectrum.

   So what hope is there for those who advocate consuming less? A decade ago, there wasn’t much hope because we all got our information from the top down, and that information was all sponsored by big corporations with many things to sell you. Now, however, we have learned how to bypass the corporate megaphones and speak directly to each other via a growing choice of New Media such as blogging, Twitter, online communities such as Facebook, and more.

   New Media for Designers + Builders describes this revolution in detail, and it’s a revolution I believe will bring as much change as the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. Those New Media are therefore where the hope lies for real sustainability.

If you’re interested, I’m doing a New Media workshop in Celebration, Florida November 8.

   It’s not just theory, either… there are those out there who are showing us how to get it done. One of my real heroes is Chuck Marohn, who went from being completely unknown a few years ago to being the leader of the Strong Towns movement today… a movement that just held their first national gathering a few weeks ago. Chuck’s message to cities and towns is precisely an Original Green message about spending less, but getting more. Strong Towns could not have existed in 1994, but today, it’s beginning to change America.

   So that’s my take on it… but am I missing something? This is a “half-baked post,” with several ideas I’ve been thinking on for some time, but I’m not at all sure that I’ve got it all right. What do you think?

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Nancy BruningCharles MarohnC Fenno HoffmanMichael Loring Waller, have a look... I'm talking about you guys here.

Sep 29, 2014 9:40am

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Nancy, I can't so easily talk about fitness alfresco without doing it myself, right? So I found an app called the 7 Minute Workout where everything is done either on the ground or on a park bench. And it's a brutal 7 minutes! I'm now doing that Monday-Wednesday-Friday between my running days Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Here's the link: http://bit.ly/1tPsMPM

Oct 11, 2014 2:24pm

Old School New Body

That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.

Aug 26, 2015 5:08am


CNU 22 Atypical Building Types

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front porch and street lights glow, illuminating sidewalk patches along Buffalo's Summer Street

All photos on this and subsequent CNU22 session posts are from Buffalo,

but aren’t necessarily related directly to the post.

   The following are tweet-casts of the Atypical Building Types session at CNU22 in Buffalo last week. I’ve edited the tweets lightly whenever I remembered something else the speaker said.

David Kim

Mayfair Lane in Buffalo builds a charming pedestrian lane above the vehicular street, glowing here at night against an amber-grey sky

Mayfair Lane, Buffalo’s most valuable building type.
Nothing else comes close. Read more on this post.

• Simple, flexible, & replicable: those are our new flex-building ideals.

• We want to be able to aggregate buildings in small increments because that’s what makes financing work in today’s market.

• The keys to making incremental buildings work are paying attention to fronts, backs, & shared courtyards.

• The most adaptable buildings are a designed on a single chassis that allows many buildouts over time.

Murphy Antoine

tiny brick Buffalo cottage stands with black gables against the nightfall sky, feathering to a soft warm glow where it meets the landscape behind a light-sprinkled wrought iron fence

This tiny cottage is likely Buffalo’s

2nd most valuable real estate per
acre, showing once again that small
≠ shack. Even so, getting small
types built is tough in some places.

• I'll talk about Baldwin Park and several types we use that have good vertical mix.

• We're all about getting stuff implemented, not just being theoretical.

• Building type choice is one of the most important, if not the single most important, decision we ever make in place-making.

• New types need to be "better than market" to really show the success of the type, otherwise nobody will take a chance on building them if they’re not more compelling.

• “Individual entry stacked flats” is a term we use for units that are similar to a mansion apartment… so long as it’s the type of mansion apartment that has only one front door.

• Individual entry stacked flats are a great way of integrating 1 bedroom units into an existing larger-home context because it doesn’t seem like you’re building out of character with the neighborhood.

• Individual entry stacked flats can look just like townhouses when they’re attached.

• Individual entry stacked flats bulk out to fit in a street full of larger row houses.

• Multi-entry stacked flats are great corner units because they can have entries on each frontage.

• Flex units can attune well to the market because of their adaptability to today's market.

• Flex units are designed to easily morph from their inaugural residential condition to retail when the time is right.

• The first level of a flex building should be a 1-story flat because that's what converts to retail later on.

• The podium building is most far-reaching & evolving type in our toolbox today. It mixes construction types, pushing wood to its limits in the code.

• CNU should take a lot of credit with the push for podium buildings, which let us build 5-6 story buildings.

• A podium building is typically concrete on the main level, with a 4-level wood building above.

• SuperWood buildings are a new type of podium building composed of 5 stories of wood construction (type 3A) on a concrete podium with upgraded fire rating on all exterior walls.

• SuperWood buildings can put bigger box retail in the concrete base.

• The concrete first level of podium buildings can be extra-tall for large tenants who need tall ceilings.

• Viewed from downhill, our new SuperWood building is an amazing thing to see, with a tall main level and two lower parking decks. All told, it looks like 9-story mostly-wood building!

Eric Moser

simple white brick Italianate cottage sits close between its neighbors on a Buffalo street at nightfall, a single porch light aglow

This isn’t one of Julie’s Edge Dwellers, but it’s
as small as some of them.

• Let's look at Julie Sanford's Edge Dwellers.

• In America, we've created construction where we can't live in buildings without outside air.

• There are many international sources of design inspiration for these case study houses.

• Edge dwellers are designed to produce more energy than they use.

• All of these case study houses are meant to be built of locally available materials.

• The tent dweller is a model of disengagement with the land, hovering lightly above it.

• The eco-dweller admits natural light & amplifies breezes, and is meant to live off the grid.

• Eco-dwellers are raised on piers, treading very lightly on the land, preserving existing drainage patterns.

• Our Belize project aims to reinvigorate local traditions of hardwood construction.

• These Belize cottages have no insulation in exterior walls, and are built without highly skilled labor.

• The Belize cottages reduce the number of layers we typically build in a building. What you see is what you get: studs, sheathing, and siding.

• We want to build a much smaller conditioned core of the building.

Steve Maun

warm yellow glow of the porch light illuminates this tiny cottages front porch, painted a festive red and green, while night draws close around

When financing is tougher to get,

it should be easier to get a loan on

small cottages than McMansions.

• After the meltdown, the lenders weren't there any more, so builders could no longer build spec houses. In some ways, this was a good thing.

• The problem is, you can't get the pace of construction to sustain a project without the financing of individual buildings.

• One of the greatest puzzles to American construction today is how to increase the capacity of building without the financing we once had.

• We are now looking at modular construction to boost our capacity.

• Modular is not less expensive than good stick construction - it's about the same. The bonus is speed.

• We're doing Marianne Cusato modular designs by Clayton Homes.

• One really interesting thing about modular is that it fits great on the tiny lots of old towns because the modules have to be small enough to travel down the highway.

• Going from the staging area to the building site in an existing town with a modular house can be an adventure. We have a special subcontractor for that.

• “Lift off” is that moment when your heart's in your throat with a modular house in the air and destined to go between two existing houses.

• The smallest cottages have porches built with the house in the factory. Larger houses have site-built porches.

Robert Orr

carriage house dissolves into the warm glow of the street light at the right edge of this scene, while two neighboring houses stand watch at the end of the street late on a Buffalo evening

Buffalo’s old streets are filled with building types
that aren’t typical today.

• This presentation is mainly about the building types I'm not allowed to build.

• My idea for this new type began with English leasehold from the Middle Ages.

• Today, the threshold of an urban development is to have a pro forma that's better than surface parking.

• Here’s the core question: How do you get the price down so low you don't need a public-private partnership for an urban infill?

• You can get tremendous variation along a street just by making the boxes a little larger or smaller than the ones next door.

• Our tiny incremental $300,000 building in New Haven has 6 tiny units & flex space on street… and still, the landowner elected to keep his surface parking!

Andrew Frey

festive light strings adorn the fence top and leap from eave to eave between two close-set brick cottages on a Buffalo evening

• My day job is to work for a luxury apartment developer. At night, I do townhousecenter.org.

• T4 didn't really exist before Miami21. It now applies to about 1,000 acres in the city.

• If we can figure out T4 in Miami, we can build quite a lot of it as successional upzoning occurs.

• We designed a 25' wide row house type to fit two abreast on Miami’s typical 50’ lots.

• Our Miami townhouse type doesn't have parking. Miami21 requires 1.5 spaces/unit, which is a problem.

• We're working on an exemption to off-street parking for small buildings near transit in Miami.

Steve Mouzon

I will write up my presentation and post it sometime soon.

Panel Discussion

Buffalo houses sit in the gathering evening light at a bend in the street, all porch lights aglow

• Roughly ⅔ of the buildings once existing in New England have been torn down.

• It is interesting that parking is considered part of the burden of the lot rather than part of transport system.

• Someone should initiate a parking credit for blocks with Zipcars.

• The key to the best new building types is funding that doesn't require Wall Street.

• The biggest problems with live-works are fire codes & finance.

• CNU is working with the FHA to get the allowable percentage of work area in live/works increased.

• Working at home should be a basic human right.

   ~Steve Mouzon


Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block

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   Plans can be poetic on several levels, from simple sensual beauty to deeply embedded meaning. Great planners create profound poetry in their best plans, and while this doesn’t rise to those levels, I feel it is some of my best work. Here’s what it means:

Pienza, Italy overlaid on the outline of a Mormon Block

Pienza, Italy superimposed on green rectangle the size
of a Mormon Block to illustrate just how big they are

   CNU kicked off last year in Salt Lake City with a competition to redesign the Mormon Block. Salt Lake City is built of these mammoth blocks, measuring 660 feet on a side and containing exactly 10 acres. What do you do with blocks that big? Because the Original Green’s ideas on Nourishable Places had an early influence on Agrarian Urbanism, I was asked to lead a session on Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block. My competition entry on Wednesday served as the basis for my presentation on Saturday.

view from High Street to sheep grazing on rolling meadows outside Broadway, in the Cotswolds of England

   The idea of putting a garden in the city has potential story lines that trace back thousands of years. In the Judaeo-Christian heritage, paradise at the beginning of the world was a garden and at world’s end, it will be a city. Many of the most beautiful places on earth not yet ruined by sprawl put these two ideals together, allowing you to look directly from the city out into the countryside, such as this view from High Street in Broadway, one of the most beautiful towns in England's Cotswold hills.

Chipping Camden seen from nearby meadows, and set against a lonely hilltop beyond

   It is just as poetic to see the town in the distance from the countryside, so long as the town is small enough to perceive all at once, like Chipping Camden is as seen from this meadow. The trick to building a garden inside a Mormon Block is that there’s no way you’ll feel like you’re out in the countryside because you simply cannot get that far from the urbanism all around the edge of the block.  And while a small patch of garden embedded in urbanism can be profound in the hand of a master, it’s easier to make an impact by pulling off the feeling of moving from city to garden in a short distance.

dark passage through the High Street walls of St. Albans near London open to a brighter garden beyond

   I set out, therefore, to try to move from the city to the garden in ten paces. It’s not as difficult as it sounds… it happens all the time in villages like St. Alban’s in England shown here. And then it occurred to me: maybe, if I could pull a few planning tricks, it might be possible not just to move from city to garden in ten paces, but actually move from city to what felt like country in ten paces. So I set out to try to figure out how to do it.

winding country road through the Dartmoor National Forest in the South of England

   One obvious solution is to make sure that there are turns in the road. This country road winds for miles through England’s Dartmoor National Forest, but you can never see more than a few dozen yards ahead of you because the path is constantly twisting and turning along the contours of the land as it searches out the more level tracks through the landscape.

hedgerows along a country lane through the Cornwall countryside in England

   Hedgerows are another useful technique for controlling the view, and because England is famous for them, here’s yet another British image. A hedgerow is tall and thick, creating a view wall so that you cannot see into the adjacent field. Hedgerows can also be edible, planted with fruit or berry bushes. And while bedding crops often grow at more than arm’s length, edible hedgerow plants bring the fruit right up to your face if you’re walking along the edge of the path.

narrow street through Tuscany's Pienza

   Street width isn’t often discussed as a technique for making the way seem longer, but it can be highly effective. It’s simple proportion: moving 300 feet along a street that’s ten feet wide seems like a much longer distance than traveling an equal distance on a boulevard that’s 200 feet from building face to building face. Take this simple test: Look at the second image above, then imagine walking from one end of Pienza to the other, then imagine walking one block in Salt Lake City. Which seems like a greater distance? So the path should clearly be narrow.

green gallery along French Quarter streets in New Orleans

   It’s not possible to completely hide the buildings at the street from within the garden, but it is possible to clothe the insides of the buildings with green. New Orleans does a fabulous job of this, adorning buildings with galleries that are practically begging you to hang a lush garden of potted plants, such as the one that is shown in this image.

Mormon Block 2

   So here’s how the idea developed: The first move was to decide that there should be something special in the middle, which is where you’re furthest from the city. Working edible gardens need a place for the work of the harvest, and the time of harvest has been an occasion for festivals throughout human history, so it seemed appropriate to put the place of the harvest at the center of the block. And because the block is square and urban, a harvest place that is round and green seemed to be the perfect counterpoint on several levels.

Mormon Block 5

   That mammoth block size was the very next thing that had to be addressed. Portland is famous for its walkability in part because of its very small block size, where block faces are around 195 feet per side. Dividing the Mormon Block in thirds creates sub-blocks with similar block face dimensions once you take out the width of the sub-block passages. And in order to create the best walkability, there should be corner entries as well, which create iconic flatiron buildings. All told, this scheme creates twelve gateways into the garden: four at the corners and two along each side.

Mormon Block 7

   So the basic scheme was set: enter through the city walls at the twelve gateways and proceed along narrow, curving, hedged pathways through the garden to the place of the harvest. Here’s the basic idea of one of those pathways. But should they just curve in one direction, like giant turbine blades? Doing this would give you no choices along the way from the city streets to the center of the garden, making each path pretty much identical. Once you’ve walked one, you’ve pretty much walked them all. So I decided there should be intersections along the way. But how, and how many?

Mormon Block 11

   Intersections are easy if you run the pathways both to the right hand side and to the left. How much should they curve?  Curve too little, and it’s pretty much a straight shot to the center. Curve too much, and each of the plots of the garden becomes tiny as the block is eaten up with too much roadway. A perfect balance seemed to be to lay out the pathways for seven intersections between the city sidewalks and the place of the harvest. At each of the seven intersections, you could turn right, or left, going further out or further in. And so your path from each of the twelve gates to the place of the harvest could take innumerable paths as you selected your way through the seven circles of choices.


   So that’s how the paths laid out. You’ll also notice a few more things: The twelve cottages scattered around the outer edges of the garden house the gardeners. Bio-intensive gardens this big would be full-time work for these twenty-four people (with maybe some occasional help from their children.) Just outside their cottages, at the outer circle, is the orchard border that further frames the green circle of the garden. And the innermost circle of sunburst-shaped buildings are the sheds where the tools of the garden and the tools of the harvest are stored.

   There are other stories here as well, but I’ve gone on long enough. What do you see?

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Judy L. Hayward · Executive Director at Historic Windsor, Inc.

Steve, this is a great idea and so well written. Thank you.

May 27, 2014 9:00am

Keith Covington · Nashville, Tennessee

Neat solution, Steve!

 May 27, 2014 11:01am

Jason Dunham · Birmingham, Alabama

Steve, I love this design because of the beauty and embedded meaning, but also the functionality. I don't know if you've considered or were influenced by Mormon doctrine or not but there are some interesting relationships revealed in your description.

Jun 18, 2014 6:07pm

Tod Robbins · Saratoga Springs, Utah


Thanks for running us through your process. The finished design is really beautiful and functional. I recently read "Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning" (http://www.amazon.com/Nineteenth-Century.../dp/0195075056) by C. Mark Hamilton. It's a great overview of the "City of Zion" or "Zion Plat" urban design and Mormon structures. Anyhow, give it a read if you haven't already.

Thanks again!

Jul 13, 2014 8:03pm

Søren Simonsen · Founder at Impact Hub Salt Lake

I don't know if the Mormon Block needs re-inventing. If you understand the original idea, it's pretty awesome in its original form. But the ideas presented here are fantastic.

Jul 13, 2014 8:12pm


What I Learned by Moving My Office Home

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my office sits in 50 square feet, just behind a wall built of bookshelves, and tucked into a corner between living room and kitchen

view from kitchen: my office takes up about 6 feet at the right end of our living room that we didn’t use so much, and is partitioned off by bookshelves
- most of the living room is out of view to the left - and yes, the kitchen is a “chef’s kitchen,” meant to be messy with everything open to view - and use

   I dreaded the idea of moving my office worse than a root canal, but it might turn out to be one of the leanest, greenest, and all-around best things we’ve done in a very long time. At first, we didn’t even consider moving home because we simply have too much stuff. We were in a 1,500 square foot office a few blocks away from our 747 square foot condo; how is it possible to condense every three square feet into one? But late one October evening, I asked Wanda “do you think we should consider the unthinkable?” And so it began.

working in my outdoor "drawing room" in our tropical paradise of a garden room

my outdoor drawing room

   Moving your office to an equal or larger space is easy: you just call the movers and then spend a day or two getting set up to work again. But combining 1,500 square feet of work space and 747 square feet of living space into 747 square feet of live/work space is much more difficult because you have to look at every single thing and say “do I really need this?” It’s an intense exercise in getting lean with living and working. We spent almost the entire month of January doing exactly that, and the three months since sorting it all out. Here are some things I learned, organized by simple rules of thumb… and you can click on the bird to tweet a rule of thumb if you like.


dark oak storage cabinet sits quietly in a corner, with a bronze sculpture perched above

this clever cabinet is less than 2 feet wide
and stores all the office supplies we really

needed to keep

Tweet: Get lean by ditching flab, which is anything you don’t need today.
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Get lean by ditching flab, which is anything I don’t need today.

   We keep far too much stuff because we might need it someday, just as our body does with fat… storing calories because we might someday need them. When we moved, we gave loads of furniture, office supplies, and the like to MakeShop Miami, the maker group I wrote about here. They can use it today, while I only might need it someday.

Tweet: Sentimentality is a hard master, forcing me to carry a heavy load just to see it again someday
																			#LeanMeans http://ctt.ec/7Dj1q+

Sentimentality is a hard master, forcing me to carry a heavy load just to see it again someday.

   Take pictures. Good ones. They take up no space at all in your place, especially if you store them somewhere in the cloud. I had several architectural models I’d kept since school. At this point, they looked like models of ruins because the models were ruined. I also got rid of a lot of drawings from school, saving only my best work. I keep all my professional drawings, of course, but the idea that anyone would want to see my lesser work from school just doesn’t make sense.

Tweet: Lean by lack is poverty, but lean by choice is highly treasured
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Lean by lack is poverty, but lean by choice is highly treasured.

   No diet is pleasant at the moment, but the leanness that comes afterward can be great fun. Getting lean has caused a massive 4-month hit to my productivity, but it promises to pay off for years to come.

my indoor drawing room is collected around an antique library table and surrounded by bookshelves

here’s where I draw indoors...

Tweet: Work somewhere too small to clutter
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Work somewhere too small to clutter.

   I once thought a space large enough to clutter was a luxury but it’s really a burden. Here’s a huge point about the images in this post: Nothing was prepped for the shoot. All “straightening up” took 30 seconds or less. This is how we work. We can’t afford not to. And it saves a ton of time cleaning up every few months and searching for stuff every day in between.

Tweet: Label stuff crisply and neatly - the smaller the space the cleaner it needs to feel
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Label stuff crisply and neatly. The smaller the space, the cleaner it needs to feel.

   You can get away with hand-scrawled labels in a big office, but a small office needs to feel more composed. And where would you rather be working anyway: somewhere really sloppy, or somewhere that raises your spirits? When space is small it is more important to surround yourself with things that lift your spirits.

my computer work area sits in a cheery corner of my 50 square foot office

… and I can flip the red chair around and work on my computer
… all in just under 50 square feet

Tweet: Shred w/text left-right so ribbons of paper include only 1-2 digits of an account number
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Shred with text left-to-right so ribbons of paper include only a digit or two of an account number.

   I had every check I’d ever written, all the way back to when Wanda and I got married when I was just 19. Why? Because I’d never taken the time to recycle them. The IRS says you have to keep 7 years of records, but I kept everything back to when we moved to Florida, 11 years ago. I kept tax returns older than that… or at least the ones we had. We had three back-to-back floods in our office several years ago during a rooftop construction project, and they destroyed tons of drawings and company records, so what we have is really spotty. But in any case, don’t just recycle it. Identity thieves might be able to do something even if the record is really old, so make sure you shred everything before recycling.

Tweet: Never lay junk mail anywhere except in the recycle bin & get on National Do Not Mail List
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Never lay junk mail anywhere except in the recycle bin… next, get on the National Do Not Mail List.

   In a small space, you can’t afford to handle stuff twice… especially if it’s something you’re not planning to keep. So go straight to the recycle bin when you check your mail.


home office workspace hidden from view from living room by flowing curtains

use curtains to reveal workspaces only

when you want to

Tweet: Have an invisible inbox - a massive stack of stuff to do is demoralizing
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Have an invisible inbox. A massive stack of stuff to do is demoralizing.

   See the white cabinet just to the right of my red chair in the image above? It’s an Ikea shoe cabinet, but it makes an awesome inbox. I can pivot it open, drop stuff in, and let it close… and it stays out of sight until I’m ready to work on it.

Tweet: Keep things you use each day close around, but store further away what you use less often
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Keep things you use each day close around, but store further away what you use less often.

   People say storage units are a sign of hoarding, and an indicator of not getting rid of enough stuff. Quite the opposite is true if you’re moving your office home. We have three workplaces: the stuff we need every day is in our two tiny workspaces at home. The stuff we need weekly is in a small storage unit a bike ride from home. The stuff we need monthly or less is in a larger but less expensive (per square foot) storage unit on the mainland. All three places are set up for work. Without the two storage units, working from home would be impossible for me.

a pair of orange earplugs sit quietly on a laptop

sound control is a necessary part of focus in
a small shared space

Tweet: Rinse junk mail instead of scrubbing - don’t fear the inbox #LeanMeans #OriginalGreen http://ctt.ec/7S0ec+

Rinse junk mail instead of scrubbing. Don’t fear the inbox.

   Ever notice how something you could have merely rinsed right after you used it takes some real scrubbing if you let it get hard and crusty? Junk mail is that way. It’s more important in a small space to not feel the walls closing in around me… including the digital walls of stacks of email. So every morning, I delete all the spam that my spam-catcher doesn’t catch, plus all the emails that aren’t exactly spam, but which I have no intention of ever answering. This leaves me with a small fraction of what greeted me when I first sat down, making it more likely that I’ll actually look at what’s left… and then respond to it.


home office in a corner of a living room, partitioned by bookshelves

bookshelves double as great partitions...

Tweet: The first act of simplification is discovering which things can do double-duty... or more #LeanMeans #OriginalGreen http://ctt.ec/452m8+

The first act of simplification is discovering which things can do double-duty… or more.

   Start with your furnishings, such as these bookshelves which are actually doing triple-duty.

   Next, consider your equipment. Do you really need all of it? We’re now down to just two computers: Wanda’s laptop and mine.

   Then think about your digital business. Dropbox doubles as a cloud server and a backup system for me, for example. But it’s expensive, so I’m storing several terabytes of files that don’t often change on a WD My Cloud server I can access from anywhere on earth. Before saving stuff there, however, I’m organizing it all. It’s something I should have done years ago, but I’m using the move home as the reason to finally get it done.

   My digital setup is an entire post’s worth of material. I’ll put that post up soon on Useful Stuff. The essence, however, is this: when you work in a small space, your biggest enemy is clutter. Both physical and digital. So you need to spend an unusual amount of time simplifying things in the beginning. You’ll thank yourself countless times from that point forward.

back side of bookshelves makes another set of shelves that are usually wasted

… and don’t forget the space behind the books, which is a

whole other set of shelves, waiting to be used from the inside

Tweet: Small equipment can go many places that are impossible for larger equipment
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Small equipment can go many places that are impossible for larger equipment.

   We’re down to just one letter-size scanner, which sits snugly on the end of my desk. Our old printer was a beast, but our new one sits neatly on top of my drawing files.

Tweet: Take advantage of the space under a desk that's over and around your feet
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Take advantage of the space under a desk that's over and around your feet.

   Wanda stores copy paper on a shelf above her feet, and Buddy, Tanner, and Sally make a bed around her feet. I store stuff to either side of my feet because why should all that space be wasted?


me, in my outdoor drawing room

working from home doesn’t just mean

working inside your home

Tweet: Work in a garden room whenever possible - it’s a luxury most people never get to enjoy
																			#LeanMeans #OriginalGreen

Work in a garden room whenever possible. It’s a luxury most people never get to enjoy.

   I work outdoors whenever the weather is good for several reasons. It’s a change of scenery. It’s a great pleasure. On a good day, the light is excellent. It’s easier to focus if Wanda is on the phone indoors. And it gets me acclimated to the local environment so I can live in season, often not needing to turn on the air conditioning when I return indoors. I’m working inside right now, for example, with only the breeze of the ceiling fan needed for comfort.

What It Means

   There are obviously many lessons here, and I’ve just touched on some of them briefly. Is there anything you want to know more about? If so, I can blog about it in greater detail… or we could just talk about it here. What makes the most sense to you? And what do you wonder the most about, if you don’t already work from home?

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Chad Cooper · Self-employed at Chad Cooper :: Architecture & New Urbanism

Yes... post more details.

May 5, 2014 2:35pm

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

OK, I've finally finished this post! Lots of lessons learned from moving my office home. Have a look and let me know what I've missed... thanks!

May 6, 2014 10:11am

Joseph Readdy · Washington State University

Steve: Your writing echoes the experience – it's brief, but elegant…

May 6, 2014 11:31am

Mary Elizabeth

The thing that I miss most about working from home is the luxury of being able to cook really good meals. I would routinely start a meal early, go back to work, and then finish the meal. It broke up the work day for me and gave me very valuable time for reflection about the current project. The only drawback was the very real need to deliberately take occasional days off--quite easy to skip!

May 6, 2014 12:06pm

Nancy Bruning · Author, Founder and CEO at Nancy Bruning's Nancercize

Great post, Steve. It's surprising what we can do without.

May 6, 2014 12:38pm

Sarah Lewis · Senior Planner at City of Somerville (Official)

WOW, Steve! Your writing is always on point but this is so true to home that I have to comment and say thank you for a wonderful, concise list . . . I have "room" to improve my space!

 May 6, 2014 3:23pm

Laurence Qamar · Principal (school) at Laurence Qamar, Architecture & Town Planning

I could not agree with you more. I have had my business in a small room in our house since 2002 when started my small firm. I am working throughout the NW region from this small space. Meanwhile, I have been here each day (that I am not traveling) to greet our son when he comes home from school. He understands what I do at work, and sometimes joins be in my office to do drawings of his own. And when it's time to meet with colleagues, our dining room turns into a great working conference room. Grade A office buildings are overrated. Live/work is where it's at. Thank you for giving increased credibility and dignity to a traditional working and living model.

May 6, 2014 9:47pm

Jim Kumon · Executive Director at Incremental Development Alliance

Look forward to sharing the spaces I've modified or created indoors/outdoors here in the last 12 months here in MPLS.

May 7, 2014 9:45am

Chad Cooper · Self-employed at Chad Cooper :: Architecture & New Urbanism

interested in reading more about your file organization/storage

May 7, 2014 8:15pm

Kevin Klinkenberg · Executive Director at Savannah Development and Renewal Authority

Your Email comments are spot on, as are dealing with the awfulness of clutter that we just let fill up our lives for no good reason, really. Another thing I'm finding helpful to "lean" things up is only checking email twice per day. My goal is to get it down to three or four times per week. The 4 hour workweek book has a lot of great thoughts on this that you might enjoy.

May 9, 2014 11:20am

Spencer Howard

How do you organize your books? I see labels on the spines. Library of Congress numbers or your own system?

May 13, 2014 10:20am

Zach Borders · CEO / Director of Planning + Design at Civic ArtWorks

Steve - Excellent as always. Related to "Breathe" - do you have any thoughts regarding a portable studio for those of us that like to take our work with us on adventures through a city / neighborhood from time-to-time? Does the packing list for a charrette trip = the packing list for a day trip to a new coffee shop in a new, unexplored neighborhood? How do the sketch pad and the laptop / tablet co-habitate . . . or do they? How does the backpack become a mobile version / extension of what you described above? Thanks!

May 15, 2014 1:50pm


Earth Day 2014 - Lean is the New Green

search the Original Green Blog

afternoon sunlight glistens off treetops on the North-facing slopes of Manua Kea on Hawaii's big island

   Earth Day began in 1970 with a mission to steer the passions of the day into environmental protection, but things are afoot today that may finally help channel the environmental movement into its real mission: building a better future. American rivers were ablaze in 1970, and industrial cities lived under a perpetual pall belching continuously from its smokestacks. I grew up a hundred miles away from one of them, and one of our playground insults was “you stink like Birmingham.”

   Recovering our skies, our waters, and our lands from the ravages of industry’s degradations was the essential first step… no doubt about it. But just as an alcoholic’s eventual goal shouldn’t just be to get sober but to live a better life, our goal as earth’s residents shouldn’t just be to clean up our messes, but to build better places.

converging Hawaiian gorges pinch meadow down to a single point, with a solitary tree at the center

   Some people have been working on this for a long time. The New Urbanists, for example, started working out ways of building more sustainable places as far back as 1980. More recently, a number of them have taken on the mammoth problem of recovery from the addiction of sprawl.

   The engine of sprawl was fueled by the 20th Century’s energy glut and the mirage of perpetual expansion, making it a bloated target for anyone interested in building more sustainably. But sustainability’s allies have also become part of the problem. The LEED rating system, for example, was created with the very best of intentions, but it has also become so flabby that there are now calls for a lean alternative. And place-making regulation at all levels of government, environmental or otherwise, has become not just a thicket, but a complete unnavigable hairball of regulatory centipedes. Conjures up some disgusting images, right?

   It’s time to come lean. Fortunately, there’s a small crack team already working on that. The Lean Initiative doesn’t advocate for a complete free-for-all, but rather for “pink tape” instead of red tape… in other words, lightening the load so that more of us can get meaningful stuff done. The Lean Initiative is built on seven Foundations. Here’s a quick look at some of the lean things some of us have been building upon them:

farm shed stands solitary sentinel over agricultural field on the northern slopes of Hawaii's Manua Kea

Lean Building

• Condition people first, so they can throw the windows open and “live in season” most of the year. Tweet

• Build outdoor rooms, not lawns, to entice people outdoors where they acclimate to the local environment. Tweet

Outdoor rooms are a fraction the $ of indoor rooms, so save a little indoor living space & outdoor rooms are free. Tweet

• No equipment is so efficient as the machine that is off. Tweet

Small is the new luxury. Bigger is lower quality, smaller is higher quality for the same $. Tweet

• Why waste the space in the walls? Hundreds of square feet are lost in spaces you never see. Tweet

• Build armoires instead of closets for your clothes. They’ll save $, floor space, and look better, too. Tweet

Mauna Kea's northern slopes only slightly interrupted by Hawaiian orchard and nearby farm road

Lean Development

• Building a mature city on Day One is as insane as giving birth to an adult. Build infant villages and let them grow. Tweet

• Development speed is the enemy of value. Any place worth building well is worth building slowly. Apologies to Mae West. Tweet

• When you build, be generous with parks, greens, squares, and plazas and they will pay you back several times over. Tweet

• Build like you have only a wheelbarrow, not a bulldozer. You’ll save lots of trees and character in your place. Tweet

• Build high Walk Appeal in your streets so that your neighborhood businesses flourish. Tweet

• Single-crew workplaces make many business possible in your neighborhood today that would be impossible larger. Tweet

• Build places where you can make a living where you’re living, and walk to the grocery. Tweet

solitary farm trail traces across verdant ground on the northern slopes of Mauna Kea in Hawaii

Lean Business

• Working at home should be a basic human right. If it were harmful, humanity would have perished centuries ago. Tweet

• Welcome the Makers into every struggling neighborhood. They’re morning’s first light to a recovering place. Tweet

Name a place for what you want there. “Printer’s Row” or whatever. Names attract, and also direct. Tweet

• Do business with agreements that don’t require a lawyer to tell you what you agreed to. Tweet

• Jane Jacobs was right: new ideas come from old buildings. Businesses start best in cheaper places with lower burdens. Tweet

• Don’t advertise. Spam has vaccinated us against ads. Be the marketing you want people to see. Apologies to Ghandi. Tweet

• The old business virtues: better, faster, cheaper. The new business virtues: patience, generosity, connectedness. Tweet

northern Hawaiian shoreline battered by Pacific waves under the watchful eye of solitary white lighthouse

Lean Green

Gizmo Green: delusion that we can achieve sustainability with better equipment & materials, both of which cost more $. Tweet

• Encourage green building in ways that are fast, friendly, and free. All of which LEED is notTweet

• To thrive long after fossil fuels, we should learn from before them. Carbon is a temporary & misleading measure. Tweet

• Amperage increases a machine’s power; leverage increases our power, and works even when machine power fails. Tweet

Sustainability begins with the place, not the building. Without sustainable places, “green buildings” are meaningless. Tweet

• Sustainable places: nourishable, accessible, serviceable, securable. Green buildings: lovable, durable, adaptable, frugal. Tweet

• Sustainability isn’t something we buy, it’s something we become. Changes we make dwarf changes the R&D department makes. Tweet

a few trees scatter across a meadow out of a nearby river gorge on the northern slopes of Hawaii's Manua Kea

Lean Regulation

• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. Tweet

• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. Tweet

• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) Tweet 

• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. Tweet

• Free gardens & small farms from industrial food chain regulation. They feed neighbors, not millions of strangers. Tweet

• Those making regulations should be affected by them. We have no right to burden others with loads we do not bear. Tweet

• Regulations must be regional. Green building standards on Cape Cod look ridiculous on the Gulf Coast, and vice versa. Tweet

rare five-pointed star intersection of dirt farm roads on Hawaii's Manua Kea

Lean Infrastructure

• Generate services as locally as possible. You can borrow from your neighbors if the outage doesn’t affect them. Tweet

• Make beautiful sights and sounds with the rain, then get it back into the ground as soon as possible. Tweet

• Trading lane width for sidewalk width is one of the best infrastructure exchanges, and full of virtues. Tweet

• No sign of a vibrant, lovable place can be seen from further down the street than a line of street trees. Tweet

• Put parking on streets, on alleys, or in garages. Few things are more corrosive to cities than surface parking lots. Tweet

• Nothing reduces infrastructure as broadly and as much as doing business in your own neighborhood. Tweet

• Dispense with the gym. You can get fully fit working out on a park bench, which should be lean infrastructure's icon. Tweet

green-carpeted gorge cuts deep into Hawaii's Big Island as the tropical rain clouds hang low overhead

Lean Education

• Tell the children why, not just what. With what, you only pass or fail. With why, you can figure stuff out. Tweet

• Today’s kids will spend most of their lives on stuff that doesn’t exist yet. They must learn how to figure stuff out. Tweet

• Embed the greatest wisdom within that which can be loved, so that it may spread broadly. Tweet

• Lessons learned from things nearby stick with us easier than those from things we cannot see. Tweet

• Put homework on blogs, so each student’s work is visible to the world, and commenters help them get it right. Tweet

• Build places that put old and young together because the old are those with the most wisdom and the time to teach it. Tweet

• Combine proverbs with hyperlinks so the idea sticks with you and directs you. This might be education’s future. Tweet

   That’s a lot of stuff… what are your thoughts? What parts of this make sense?

   ~Steve Mouzon


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Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Here are my Earth Day reflections... in my opinion, the Lean Initiative may become really important in taking another step beyond recovery and toward building more sustainable places. Recovery, after all, is just about getting our heads above water again. Sooner or later, it's time to get out of the water and up onto solid ground. And that's a lot easier to do without thickets of regulation that were once well-meaning, but are now a great burden.

 Apr 22, 2014 4:36pm

Sandy Sorlien · Works at Fairmount Water Works

Wonderful tweets, Steve! Lots of food for thought. Happy Earth Day.

Apr 22, 2014 6:11pm

Christian Wagley · Principal at Sustainable Town Concepts

Steve Mouzon is always so eloquent....Follow the traditional, the simple, the human scale, that which nourishes us, and you will find the greenest way of living--the Original Green.

Apr 23, 2014 10:04am

Lisa Welch · Planner at City of Syracuse Office of Zoning Administration

Thanks Steve!

Apr 23, 2014 11:26am

Lisa Welch · Planner at City of Syracuse Office of Zoning Administration

Lean Regulation... I work with regulations everyday and the items below resonate... I will endeavor to keep these in mind as we move forward into the brave new world of not zoning.

• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. (I always try to do this and fellow planners can get a little miffed.)

• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. (We have intelligible complexity in our regs. Keep it simple.)

• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) (Our scar tissue is really ugly and makes things hyper complex.)

• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. (We make the little guys work way too hard.)

Apr 23, 2014 11:49am

Mary Brewster · Rhode Island School of Design

Where are these beautiful pictures from? They really underscore your points!

Apr 24, 2014 9:37pm

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Mary, I just realized I never answered your question... the images in this post are from Hawaii's Big Island, just off the north shore.

January 18, 2017 10:00am


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2020